Originally published April 10, 2019.
Contains: inflation, accelerated weight gain, sentient slime.
After I posted a post saying, “I’m writing again,” I got a lot of really wonderful comments that made me so emotionally overwhelmed that I had to post about it on Facebook. Of course, that was also my way of announcing to my Facebook friends that I was writing again after being too sick to write for months. Then one of my friends, who knows what kind of stories I write, replied, “WE NEED MORE BIG BELLY SPACE HEROES!”
Immediately the idea for this story popped in my head, and I had to write it as soon as I’d finished Instant Dad Bod (which has been ridiculously popular so far; thank you all for making my return to writing so wonderful).
Synopsis: Captain Phillips is a plump, decorated space captain who has lead hundreds of successful missions, but now he’s on the cusp of fulfilling a life-long dream: being the first person to step onto a newly discovered planet that’s habitable for human life, and breath the first breath a human has ever taken on it. When he and he crew lands on Cirrus 14, he joins the recon team and takes off his helmet to fulfill his dream. But as he joins them in a cave to recover their rover, he happens upon a pool of slime that’s able to move on its own. After sizing him up, the slime plunges through his mouth and starts pouring into his stomach. But it makes him feel too good to resist, and he keeps on expanding…
“Captain, the readings are coming in from the Expansion Rover.”
“That’s the one we sent to Cirrus 14, correct?”
“Correct,” the deckhand affirmed as she leaned in toward the computer screen, just as excited to read the printout as Captain Phillips was. Although he, being a more stoic person, didn’t show it so readily. “Temperature readings… in the habitable range. Atmospheric composition… compatible with human respiration. Climate stability… capable of sustaining human life. Simulated human immune response to local microbial population… successful. Sir…” she said, before taking off her headset and turning to Captain Phillips. “Cirrus 14 is a habitable candidate.”
Captain Phillips flashed a small smile before he strode to the center of the deck. “Set navigation to Cirrus 14.”
Standing with his hands clasped behind his back, Captain Phillips was an imposing figure, commanding the respect of all of his crew. His closely-trimmed beard framed a stern expression and unshakable eyes. A well-decorated Captain of the space fleet, he was a man who didn’t show many signs of his age, other than the paunch of a belly that stuck out several inches over his belt from behind his well-ironed button-down. He had no shame about his wider frame. To him it was a sign of experience and wisdom, exactly the kind of wisdom that had made him a successful space Captain he was. He had lead over 200 successful missions, from recon and research to rescue and battle, and he had no reason to doubt himself.
And yet, even he was facing down an exciting first with these new findings from Cirrus 14: his first mission to a planet that was potentially capable of sustaining human life. Few space fleet members got to go on such missions, and even fewer got to report that they’d found a planet that truly could support human habitation. Based on the findings from the rover, it seemed very likely that Captain Phillips was on the verge of exactly such a discovery.
After a standard issue warp speed jump, the crew found themselves sitting with Cirrus 14 in front of them, a mixture of greens and blues adorning the landscape. “Certainly looks an awful lot like earth,” Chief Harris said as she stepped forward to stand next to Captain Phillips and behold the planet. “We really might be on the cusp of something special.”
“I certainly hope so, Chief. Navigator, take us down to the surface for recon and exploration.”
“Are you sure that such a good idea?” Chief Harris asked the Captain. “I know the rover said the planet is in the upper range of habitability, but–”
“Not just the upper range, Chief Harris. Of all the planets that have come back as having the potential for human habitation, this one is in the 99th percentile for similarities to earth. It’s atmospheric stability even exceeds that of earth. And the atmospheric composition is even more suitable for sustaining human life.”
“Probably because we haven’t gotten our grubby little hands on it to pollute it yet.”
“Right you may be, Chief. But we are here in the name of discovery, and if the atmospheric stability conditions are correct, it seems the planet will welcome us with an easy landing.”
“Very well,” Chief Harris said, before turning back to the rest of the deck. “I’ve no objections. Set navigation for the surface.”
Soon the ship touched down gently on the planet’s surface. Through the window, the crew could see a landscape covered with what seems to be green and blue flora, which seemed to become increasingly blue as it descended up the mountains that dotted the landscape, before taking on a vibrant purple at their peaks. There wasn’t much movement to be seen, no indication of any sort of animal life to keep the floral life in check. No wonder it was flourishing so well.
“It’s beautiful,” the Captain observed quietly. Taking on a more authoritative tone and stance, he turned away from the window and said, “All right, ready the recon team, we’re heading down to the surface.”
“Wait, Captain, who is ‘we’?” Chief Harris asked.
“Myself and the recon team, of course.”
“But don’t you want to wait until they’ve secured the surface and confirmed that it’s safe for our presence?”
“Chief, I appreciate your concern. But this has been a lifelong dream of mine. To discover a planet potentially capable of sustaining human life, and be the first to step onto it. If I go out fulfilling that dream, so be it. I know I’ll leave the ship in good hands,” he concluded, putting a heartfelt hand on Chief Harris’s shoulder.
“Very well,” she said reluctantly. “But please at least wear a suit.”
Phillips and the recon team all put on their airtight suits to go down onto the planet. Phillips’ suit had to be specially fitted for him, so it had enough room for his belly, but he found it quite comfortable. Getting into the elevator that would drop them off on the surface, the four of them looked at each other with excited eyes. After venting the air in the elevator chamber and disinfecting the suits–both necessary precautions to avoid forward contamination of the planet’s surface–they were finally lowered out of the ship.
The elevator landed softly on the surface, after which the team exited the chamber. Behind them, the door was closed and the elevator was emptied of any air that had gotten inside, before it rose back up into the ship, decontaminating itself as it went. The team stood still for a moment and looked around, with Captain Phillips ahead of the other three. After taking a deep breath he disengaged the locks on his helmet and lifted the glass bowl.
“Captain!” Samantha yelled into her intercom. But the Captain’s mind was made up, and he stood breathing in the extraterrestrial atmosphere, his helmet under his arm. The other three stood behind him, frozen in place, as they waited to see what his fate would be.
After taking a few deep breaths, the Captain turned around to face the rest of the team, a smile on his face. “Gotta say, that’s some pretty good air.”
“You enjoy it, Sir,” Malik said an a tone only half sarcastic. “I think I speak for the rest of the team when I say we’re going to keep our helmets on.” The other two nodded in agreement.
“Of course,” the Captain said. “You three follow the safety precautions to make sure this mission goes off without a hitch. I just couldn’t miss this chance. To take the first breath of air on a potential habitable planet…” he said, his voice filled with wonder as he gazed out into the landscape.
“Well, we have a rover to recover,” Selena said. “Shall we get moving?”
“Of course,” the Captain agreed. “Which direction shall we head?”
As the four traversed Cirrus 14, there was an eerie stillness to the landscape. The flora seem as still is the mountains around them, and there didn’t seem to be signs of any fauna to be found. Other than the team, of course, who took great care to traverse the landscape gently, such that they didn’t cause any lasting damage. With such a stable atmosphere as the planet seemed to have, there was no telling whether the local lifeforms had any sort of resilience to trauma or damage.
Soon the team came upon a cliff face on the side of a nearby mountain, and in the cliff face was the opening to a cave. It was plenty big enough for the team to enter, twice as tall as any of them and about as wide. “Seems our little rover managed to get itself stuck in a cave after it finished transmitting its signal,” Samantha mused. “Hopefully it didn’t go in very far.”
“According to my readings,” Selena added, “it shouldn’t be more than 20 or 30 meters into the cave.”
“Let’s get it out of there, then,” the Captain affirmed.
“Are you sure you don’t want to put your helmet back on, sir?” Malik asked. “The surface has been hospitable enough so far, but there’s no telling what could be found in that cave.”
“Private Sanchez, can you get any readings from the rover when we’re this close?”
After pulling up the holographic keyboard from her wrist display and typing at the keys, Selena reported, “No readings of any sort of hostilities or hazardous conditions.”
“Then in we go,” Captain Phillips said, forging ahead with his helmet still under his arm, while the team followed tentatively behind.
But Captain Phillips was not a reckless man. As the rest of the team activated the light on their helmets, he stopped where the light from the outside stopped illuminating the cave, letting the other three step ahead of him. Whatever force of nature had made this cave in the mountain had left the surfaces very smooth, making him glad their suits had friction grips of the soles. With a stern expression, he watched as the team’s light’s descended into the cave toward the rover’s signal.
As he waited, Phillips started pacing at the mouth of the cave. After a few steps, he heard his foot land in something squishy, making something like a splashing sound as it did. Lifting his foot up, he heard a squelching sound as his foot rose. He looked down to see a pool of blue slime barely illuminated by the light from the entrance of the cave. It was translucent, allowing a view of the details of the cave floor below, but tainting the whole image blue.
Phillips was naturally fascinated by the substance, and kept looking at the pool his foot now rested in. He was so fascinated that he hadn’t noticed a foot-wide tendril of the slime rise from the pool and approach him, until it was mere feet from his face. The tendril was bent over, the end facing toward him at eye level, as if it was trying to make eye contact.
“Oh! Uh, hello there,” the Captain said, not sure how to interface with this kind of alien life. “Sorry about, uh, stepping in you.”
The tendril seemed just as curious about Captain Phillips. When he spoke, it bent back a bit, still looking his way and but maintaining a bit more of a distance. Standing still, Phillips watched as it circled around him, looking like it was examining him up and down, from the front and the sides. It almost seemed… friendly.
In spite of that, Phillips still felt nervous, knowing that anything could happen from here. Breathing heavily with his mouth open, he tried to calm himself by telling himself everything would be fine. He wasn’t very successful, and he kept watching the tendril suspiciously.
When the tendril seemed content with its examination, it return to stand in front of Phillips, the tip now less than a foot from his face. The tip turned to the side, not unlike a person cocking their head, at which Phillips thought he was finally home free.
Next thing Phillips knew, the tendril was right in his face, having entered his mouth and plunged down his throat. He heard his helmet drop from his arm and bounce off somewhere in the cave. He was too shocked to resist at first, not that any sort of resistance could have helped him. But soon after the slime entered his stomach, he found himself a lot less inclined to fight back. Not only did it have a sweet tast, but the feeling of it filling his stomach was oddly satisfying. Like a big meal of macaroni and cheese, or some other comfort food. Soon his arms stopped tensing up at his sides, and hung slack on either side of him. His shocked eyes closed partway, the bliss of being filled resembling food coma. And he didn’t dare close his lips, lest he cut off the flow of slime.
And it was indeed flowing. Once the surprise wore off and Philips was willing to let the slime do what it wanted, he could feel it flowing through his mouth and down his throat. The feeling of heaviness in his stomach was also increasing, like a meal where he couldn’t stop eating. But he didn’t feel uncomfortably full or like his stomach was stretching tight. He just felt more and more satisfied. Comfortable. There was a warm pressure building up in his stomach, cozy in the way that curling up under a bunch of blankets on a cold trip through space was. The kind of lengthy trip where they used the engine only enough to get up to a certain speed, then let their momentum carry them the rest of the way, allowing the inside of the ship to become quite cold. And this slime was reminding him of the only good part of those trips.
So even as the pressure felt like it was building in his stomach, Phillips didn’t do anything to halt or even discourage the flow of slime. His head wavered back and forth in a daze from the sensation of fullness, but his face bore a smile beneath those half-closed eyes. It would have been more obvious if it weren’t for all the slime rushing through his mouth and filling his belly, but he felt happy, and that was what mattered to him.
Phillips felt so content that he didn’t mind when he felt his suit tightening around his waist. He didn’t mind as he felt the material stretching tight and pushing back against his stomach. He certainly didn’t mind the sense of relief he felt as he heard the material rip, first in isolated spots, and then in a lengthy gash running down the center of his chest and belly. With that obstacle to his enjoyment out of the way, his eyelids drooped down a little more as he felt the slime fill him up continuously.
The slime didn’t seem to show any signs of stopping, not that Phillips wanted it to. Though it had receded from around his feet, suggesting the slime’s volume was finite, there was still enough left for the tendril to remain quite robust and the flow of slime into his swelling belly to remain consistent. His eyelids slipped a little lower, the feeling of pleasure still growing more intense. Some part of him deep in the back of his mind was amazed at just how much of the slime his body could hold without somehow rupturing. But mostly he just let the waves of ecstasy wash over him as the slime continued pumping into his turgid stomach.
The only sensation the Captain could feel other than the intense euphoria the slime provided was a gradually increasing feeling of heaviness. As the slime funneled into a swelling body, he found himself forced to stand with his legs farther apart, his arms rising next to him, and his back arching to account for the heavy feeling of the slime inside of him. By then, his rotund gut had grown to be nearly as wide as his torso was tall. The slime collecting inside felt like a boulder he was carrying in his stomach. And yet, there was nothing painful about it, no sense of bloating or tightness or unbearable fullness. Just the feeling of knowing he was swelling up, and total contentment with that fact.
His team, however, were less than content with the situation they found their Captain in and the changes they observed in him as they returned with the rover in tow, following behind them. Samantha and Malik both gasped, while Selena blurted out, “Holy shit!”
“Captain!” Samantha shouted out. But it was no use. The Captain was too deep into his slime induced daze to notice them.
He was certainly a sight to see. Much of his suit hung in tatters around his waist, the arms only holding onto the wrists. Those wrists were elevated to waist level as his arms stuck out stiff. That waist had swollen up bigger than any of them thought possible, outright planetary in shape and metaphorically so in size. His belly was now as wide as his torso was tall, a gargantuan mound of girth that made the Captain look unreal. His head was tilted back, his eyes almost entirely closed as his mouth hung open, the slime effortlessly making its way in.
Selena was the first to act, pulling out her laser pistol and shooting the slime’s tendril about 2 feet from the Captains face. That severed the flow slime immediately, with what remained attached to his mouth quickly slithering in as the rest fell back onto the floor. What was left on the floor disappeared out of sight just as quickly, seemingly scared away by the sudden impact.
And yet, even as the flow of slime stopped, the Captain did not move from his spot. He staggered back a bit as the last of the tendril passed through his mouth, lips closing from the impact. But he remained in his apparent stupor, eyes half closed, glazed over, and staring into the distance. With his newly swollen gut, it was extra apparent how his body swayed as it adjusted to his newly shifted center of gravity. And yet, it seemed if his team did nothing, he would just stand there for who knows how long.
“Alright,” Malik finally said. “We gotta get him back on the ship so the doc can look at him.”
“And how are we going to move him?” Samantha asked.
“We’re going to help him move himself,” Malik answered before stepping toward the Captain. “Samantha, you take up position on his left side. Selena, you make sure the rover comes with us.”
Samantha ran up next to the Captain as Malik instructed, following his example as she picked up the Captain’s left arm and taking it in both of her hands.
“All right, sir,” Malik said quietly as he took hold of the Captain’s other arm. “It’s time for you to come with us.” The Captain didn’t object is the two guided him slowly out of the cave, with Selena and the rover in tow. It was slow going to get their bloated behemoth of a Captain back to the ship, but after a long, slow walk along the planet’s surface, they finally got there.
When they got to the ship, Selena used her wrist computer to lower the elevator. “I don’t think we’re all going to fit in there now,” Samantha observed.
“When you’re right you’re right,” Malik concurred. After radioing the crew on board, he told them, “We’re sending up the Captain first. Make sure there’s a medic standing by to look at him.”
“What? Why?” the radio’s operator replied.
With a sigh, Malik said into his radio, “It’s a long story…”
The crew waited on the deck of the ship in tense silence. Some paced nervously, none faster than Chief Harris, while others simply sat in their chairs, wringing their hands. After all their years of interstellar travel, they’d never seen anything like what had become of Captain Phillips. Together, they waited with bated breath for the doctor’s verdict on what would happen to him.
In the silence of the deck, the sound of Doctor Nguyen’s footsteps could be heard nearly all the way from the medical bay. After making the short trip across the ship, she came into a room full of nervous faces, all eagerly looking at her.
“Well, Doctor?” Chief Harris asked.
“I’m almost certain he’ll be fine,” she said, causing a palpable drop in the tension on the deck. The sheer number of sighs combined at a volume that was defeaning compared to the quiet before. “Didn’t want to make you wait for that part,” she said with a smile. “Now, with that out of the way,” the Doctor continued, “here’s what I know: the Captain’s digestive system has been invaded by some sort of sentient organism native to this planet.”
“Given the nature of its entrance into the Captain’s stomach, ‘infected’ didn’t feel like the right word. The organism seems to be a colony of individual cells with some sort of hive mind, allowing them to replicate the form and behavior of a much larger organism, as the recon team reported. These cells have some similarity to the plant cells native to Earth, enough that I believe the Captain will be able to digest them without much issue.”
“Wait, wait, wait,” Selena interjected. “‘Digest them’? Couldn’t you get that stuff out of him? Pump it out or something?”
“I’m afraid not,” the Doctor sighed. “I was able to extract a small amount for further study, at the request of the Interstellar Travel Bureau. But there’s something about the nature of this organism, and how it assimilates with its… victim? Host? I’m still not sure about the proper terminology. In any case, removing it would pose a much greater risk to the Captain that letting it naturally pass through will.”
“And what’ll happen to him afterward?” Chief Harris asked.
After looking down, Doctor Nguyen wrung her hands uncomfortably as she said, “I do believe Captain Harris will be required to be fitted for a new… larger uniform. Other than that, I do not believe he will suffer from any ill effects. However, ITB has asked that we immediately reroute to return to headquarters, where they can keep a closer eye on him. In the meantime, he will be resting in the med bay. For the sake of his recovery, I’m going to keep him incapacitated until we arrive.”
“You mean… medically induced coma?” Chief Harris asked.
“No, no, Chief, nothing that drastic. Although you could say he’s in a coma of sorts,” she added, causing most of the people on deck to look at her with nervous expressions, ready for some kind of bad news. “That which in layman’s terms is called a ‘food coma’,” she clarified, followed by several groans from the crew. “Oh come on,” she said with a smirk. “He couldn’t digest the stuff properly if he were in a true coma. Now come on, we’ve got to get him back.”
“She’s right,” the Chief affirmed. “Navigation, set course for HQ.”
As the crew prepared for the final leg of their journey, the Chief stood around long enough to oversee the proceedings, before running back after Doctor Nguyen. “Doctor,” she called out in a somewhat hushed voice, loud enough for the doctor to hear her but quiet enough that the crew wouldn’t sense her doubt.
“Chief Harris?” the Doctor replied, turning around and looking back at the Chief with raised eyebrows.
“Doctor,” the Chief started, trying to maintain her stoic composure. “You said you’re ‘almost certain’ the Captain will be fine. Be honest with me: is he really going to be okay?”
Doctor Nguyen closed her eyes and smiled a slight smile, before putting one of her hands on Harris’s shoulder. “When you’re dealing with the extraterrestrial, Chief Harris, nothing is ever certain. But you have my word, that to the best of my medical knowledge, Captain Phillips will make a full recovery. In fact, the organism seems to have a euphoric effect on him, meaning he certainly isn’t worried about his condition right now, and you shouldn’t be either.”
With a sigh, Chief Harris nodded and said, “You’re right.”
“I’d go so far as to say the only unpleasantness the Captain will have to deal with, other than adjusting to his new weight, will be evacuating the organism.”
“Defecation, Chief Harris.”
“Ah,” the Chief replied, suddenly regretting having asked. “Well, uh, I’d better return to the deck.”
As a reward for their discovery, and a consolation for the state of their Captain, the crew had been allowed to stay in the presidential suite of the living quarters at ITB HQ. At any other time, the team would have reveled at being given the opportunity, and taken full advantage of all the complimentary amenities it included. But as they waited for news of their Captain’s condition, even the crew’s biggest partiers could barely nurse a mild alcoholic beverage.
Only Chief Harris seemed to be willing to do anything other than mope, although that mostly consisted of badgering Doctor Nguyen with questions about the organism.
“So you’re saying it was drawn to his breath?”
“I think so. Without thinking, I put my sample down near a hot plate, and the organism naturally slid up to the side of the beaker that faced it. When I rotated the beaker, it slid back to the side by the hot plate.”
“You’re saying you discovered that by accident?”
“Some of the most important discoveries throughout history were made by accident, Chief. Look at Penicillin. Or the chocolate chip cookie.”
“You know, that’s not a bad idea,” the Chief concurred, standing up to walk to the snack bar and take a package of chocolate chip cookies for herself. Soon the Chief rejoined Doctor Nguyen and tore open the package.
“Not what I meant.”
The Chief shrugged as she took her first bite. Before she could voice a retort, she was cut off by the sound of the door opening behind her. She didn’t bother to look around and see who it was. By then, several of the ITB’s medical staff had been by to update them on the Captain’s progress, but the news never amounted to more than, “He’s fine, and still resting.” Which was all well and good, but the Chief wanted to know when he’d be reunited with the crew, and thus far, they hadn’t had any sort of news to that effect.
“Hello, everyone,” the doctor said anyway. “I’m happy to tell you that Captain Phillips is fully awake and responsive, and that he will be joining you soon.” There was a pause as the doctor wrung his hands, and when he next spoke, his voice didn’t have quite the same level of enthusiasm. “I should also let you know that the Captain has… changed some since he last left port.”
“We know he’s going to be fatter,” the Chief interjected, goading a few snickers out of the crew members.
“Yes…” the doctor confirmed. “…in so many words. However, in all my years of medicine, I’ve truly never seen anything like this. By all accounts, his stomach should have ruptured from how much it was forced to contain. And the pace at which he’s been able to metabolize it all was… frankly unbelievable.”
“We get it,” Doctor Nguyen shouted out. “What’s your point?”
“My point is… the Captain weighs 417 pounds now.”
Even though they’d all seen the Captain in his bloated state, this news still caused murmurs to spread across the entire crew. All but Chief Harris, who shouted out, “Let the doctor speak,” to quiet them.
“Is any of this weight caused by the organism that invaded his stomach?” Doctor Nguyen asked.
“I’m afraid not. All our observations indicate that he has finished metabolizing the substance. It seems it was just… absurdly calorically dense, and his weight gain is a natural consequence of that. I didn’t want you all to be… too surprised when you see him again. Which, I believe, should be soon. Good day, everyone,” the doctor concluded before leaving the suite, closing the door behind him.
“417 pounds,” the Chief repeated quietly.
“I can’t even imagine how a human body could put on that much weight in such a short period of time,” Doctor Nguyen added. “There must have been some compound in the organism that could accelerate the process. Some kind of catalyst, or…”
The Doctor’s ruminations were interrupted by the sound of the door opening yet again. After it opened, the room become completely silent. It was so quiet that she could hear a heavy breathing coming from the direction of the door. Turning around, she joined the rest of the crew in beholding their Captain and his new appearance. She was a little less shocked than the rest of the crew, as she’s spent so much time examining the Captain while he was bloated off of the organism. But even she could scarcely believe her eyes.
Captain Phillips looked around the room slowly, maintaining his signature stern expression, even though that expression was flanked by much more fat in his cheeks and chin. Whereas they had previous rested on his face separately, his face now sported a ring of fat that hung from ear to ear. While he seemed to be back to his old self, he did look less intimidating for it.
It seemed that during his recovery, the ITB has ensured that Captain Phillips would not be without dignified attire to wear. He wore a white suit that looked just like his old Captain’s suit, albeit a great deal wider to fit all his new weight. Down the front was a row of buttons that emphasized just how rotund his belly had become, curving over it like a planetary orbital pattern. Which was appropriate for the planetary belly that it now contained. While the sleeves of the jacket and the legs of the pants were loose enough to obscure just how thick his arms and legs had become, the tight shirt left nothing to the imagination about just how much his gut had grown. Though it wasn’t quite as bulbous as it had been when it was full of the slime from Cirrus 14, it was still undoubtedly the largest in the whole fleet.
So large was his belly that as Captain Phillips entered the room, he was forced to sway from side to side as he maneuvered it, taking short steps with his arms forced out at an angle if he wanted to put his hands in his pockets. His belly moved ahead of him like one spaceship escorting another. Except his belly looked like it was leading him around. Still, his careful consideration of how he moved all his weight gave him a certain stately presence as he strode ahead.
Taking a deep breath, the Captain finally spoke. “No, your eyes do not deceive you. Now, the doctors tell me there isn’t anything unique about this weight, other than the speed with which it came on. So as long as I don’t go eating any more high-calorie extraterrestrial organisms, and don’t change my diet, then the extra weight will fall off naturally. However, for the immediate future, this it what I will look like,” he said with a surprising level of acceptance.
“However, the way I see it, the only thing that has changed is that I’ll need to wear some different suits for a while. I’m still the same Captain you know and, hopefully, respect. I like to think of myself as capable at my job, and this doesn’t affect those capabilities at all. And I cannot wait to lead you all again.” This declaration goaded a few cheers out of the crew, which made the Captain smile. “Now, enjoy this Presidential suite while we’re still here. We take off again for the stars soon.”